Short-handed Afghan embassy helps immigrants, refugees in Canada and U.S.

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More than a year since the Afghan embassy in Ottawa was forced to scale down operations, staff members who are left say they now work double duty to provide consulate services to immigrants and refugees in Canada and the United States.

In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover in Kabul in August 2021, funding to Afghanistan’s embassy missions in countries that do not recognize their authority were cut off — including Canada and the U.S.

Earlier this year, operations at the Afghanistan Embassy in Washington were suspended, diverting immigrants and refugees in the U.S. in need of consulate services to Ottawa, where an embassy remains open. It’s there that a team, which is fewer than 10, is helping thousands of people with legal documentation, including birth certificates, driver’s licences and extending passports.

“The load of work is a lot [with] less resources,” said Tamim Amini, an administrator that’s currently helping in the consulate department.

“We are still doing our best and we are not behind. We are working really harder than expected just because people needed us.”

It’s a big job for a small team, and while consulate services provide enough revenue to keep the lights on, the embassy has had to drastically downsize its mission and reduce expenses.

“The situation remains very challenging and the experience of the past year has been extremely challenging,” said Afghanistan’s Ambassador to Canada, Hassan Soroosh.

There continues to be no money or contact from Kabul since August of last year and “legally speaking we are representing the state of Afghanistan,” said Soroosh.

Many refugees without documentation

Beyond consular services, the embassy team advocates for human rights issues in Afghanistan and helps with resettlement efforts for the 40,000 refugees Canada promised to take in last year. 

Mohammad Naeem Ayubzada is one of them.

Working for an advocacy group for fair elections in Afghanistan, Ayubzada said he was targeted and threatened by the Taliban, who also beat his staff. He made a quick decision to leave his country, arriving in Ottawa with his wife and four school-aged children in February 2022.

“We didn’t carry out anything. We left our money, our documents, everything we had. We left it in Afghanistan. We didn’t bring with us. We couldn’t because … we were not prepared,” he said.

Ayubzada and his family feel lucky to be safe in Canada, but life has also been difficult, he said, as they adjust to a new society, culture and language. Despite applying for several jobs related to his expertise in advocacy work, he has yet to be hired.

Ayubzada said the embassy helped him get his family’s documentation in order, including the paperwork needed for him to get his Ontario driver’s licence. He said that opens up options for work as a driver for Uber or a taxi company.

“I would like to thank them from the bottom of my heart because we do really need their services,” he said.

Embassy staff carry on, despite the strain on its very limited resources, because of those kinds of stories.

“It’s a challenge. … At the same time it’s a privilege to help,” said Amini.

Source : CBC News